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Think you’ll be happy in retirement?

Jul 05 2016

If you think you’ll be happy in retirement, the answer is yes but don’t expect every day to be joyful and carefree.

“We’re all born with a temperament toward optimism and contentment, but — at the end of the day — we’re all human,” notes Hyong Un, M.D., chief psychiatrist for Aetna’s Behavioral Health group. “Being happy every day would be wonderful, however it is an incredibly unrealistic expectation given what can happen to us at any given point. As we get older we build gratitude and resilience, but sometimes that isn’t enough to keep people happy day in and day out after they retire.”

health risk of prediabetesWhen we think of a “happy” person, socially and culturally, we picture someone who is smiling, bright-eyed and engaged in everything around them. They seem to have little bothering them and life is easy.  Many of us may expect retirement to be the same. When things don’t go that way, that disappointment may actually pile on to whatever else is challenging us at the time.

Finding your happy place

 In the U.S., one in seven Baby Boomers is currently being treated for depression, according to a Gallup poll.  

“Being content, figuring out who you are and doing what you want to do is really important once you retire,” Un says. “There isn’t one definition of what’s going to make someone happy, contrary to what we see on television and in our culture. Doing what’s best for you is the right thing.”

In an effort to boost happiness, Un often advises patients to set aside time every night and write down three things that went well in that day and why they went well. He’s seen it resonate with some who have a hard time finding the “good” in their days. The longer patients continue the exercise, the happier they are over time.

“It’s that simple. Making an inventory of things that are going well and appreciating why automatically creates a sense of resilience and happiness,” says Un. “It gives you the confidence that you can face the challenges you may encounter in your everyday life.”

If making lists or keeping a journal isn’t your thing, simply doing things that you are good at which also give meaning in your life can give you a renewed purpose in your retirement. For example, if you’re a retired teacher, you may choose to volunteer in a school system. Along with giving back, you also get to continue your craft and give yourself further purpose.

It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, as long as you’re finding meaning in your life.

In retirement, Un suggests that well-being may be a more appropriate goal than happiness. Your own sense of well-being can be fueled by activities that keep your mind and body in good shape. Your diet, activity level, sleep, social life and personal relationships all have an effect on your state of mind.

“Even if it feels like you are spending more time doing things you have to do instead of all the things you want to do, you can find some satisfaction in getting through every day,” he says. “Most of all, try to be realistic. Find happiness where you can and ask for help if you can’t.”


Editor’s note: Several online resources offer helpful information on healthy aging, including the CDC, the American Psychological Association and the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation, among others. If you are concerned about any aspect of your health, you should seek further evaluation from your doctor. And if you are worried about a friend or family member, learn to recognize the warning signs of depression.